Heathland is defined by characteristics such as vegetation dominated by plants of the Ericaceae (heathers) family, dwarf shrub communities, few trees, sandy acidic soils and at altitudes below three hundred metres. Heathland is a rare and threatened habitat, only about 15% of heathland that existed in 1800 remains.
Ashdown Forest's 1,620 hectares of heathland represent some three percent of the UK total. It is extremely important to note that heathland is a "plagioclimax" vegetation type. This simply means that it originated through, and is maintained by some human activity. If that activity should cease then the plagioclimax vegetation will progress towards a true climax vegetation. In the case of most of Great Britain this would be mixed deciduous woodland.
In the case of Ashdown Forest this human intervention has historically taken the form of livestock grazing which is now in decline, especically since World War 2 and is resulting in the encroachment of woodland onto many parts of the heathland. To see the Heathland zones work map for 2013/2014 click here.
The 1600 hectares of Ashdown Forest's heathland represents 3 percent of all lowland heathland in the UK, making it an important national conservation area, significant even in European terms.
It is characterised by the presence of plants such as heather, dwarf gorses and cross-leaved heath, some areas of scattered trees and scrub, areas of bare ground, gorse, wet heaths, bogs and open water. Heathland supports numerous species the most common being invetebrates such silver-studded blue butterflies, the raft spider (UK’s largest spider) and bog bush crickets. It is also home to the adder (Britain's only posionous snake) and lizards.
Visitors will also, if lucky, be able to see deer and (in the summer) hear the spooky call of the nightjar.
You can read more about the management of both heathland and woodland in our management section.
Click here to see the Heathland Management Plan.